Safety Schools

  • This has become our largest and most active forum because the physics GRE is just one aspect of getting accepted into a graduate physics program.
  • There are applications, personal statements, letters of recommendation, visiting schools, anxiety of waiting for acceptances, deciding between schools, finding out where others are going, etc.

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Unnatural Log
Posts: 46
Joined: Fri Aug 15, 2008 4:07 pm

Safety Schools

Postby Unnatural Log » Wed Dec 10, 2008 5:11 pm

My pGRE score is a solid 780 (up from 600 the first time I took it) and I have a GRE of 800Q/600V/4.5W. My GPA is okay-but-not-great at 3.3 (about the same in physics), but from a really good university. I have relevant research experience and will have good letters, but no pubs. I'm a domestic white male applicant applying to astro departments.

Make no mistake, I'm not whining about my chances, I feel that I'm on pretty solid ground on getting into a good program, with an outside chance of getting into a "reach" like Cal Tech or Cornell. I am considering programs like BU and Florida as safeties (and I'd be happy to go to either school, based on their research). I could possibly go lower, and add a school like Florida Tech, Georgia State, Arkansas - but I'm not sure it wouldn't just be a waste of time.

I suppose my general question is: what is your philosophy on safety schools? Just how "safe" should they be?

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trani
Posts: 108
Joined: Sun Sep 07, 2008 1:04 am

Re: Safety Schools

Postby trani » Wed Dec 10, 2008 6:11 pm

My philosophy is very simplistic, but here it is:

If I don't see myself going there even if I am accepted --> Do not apply.

Recall: It is six years of your life and it will largely determine the people in the field you have connections with...

nonick
Posts: 123
Joined: Sat Oct 18, 2008 5:16 pm

Re: Safety Schools

Postby nonick » Fri Dec 12, 2008 3:28 am

Completely agree with trani.

I believe that taking an year off is better than going to a school you don't want to go to.
Also if you know what research area you want to go into, try to look for not-so-reputed schools that are pretty strong in that area.

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secander2!
Posts: 264
Joined: Mon Oct 27, 2008 12:25 pm

Re: Safety Schools

Postby secander2! » Fri Dec 12, 2008 6:42 am

Hi! 780 is exactly what I got on the Nov test last year (my profile)! Anyways, I was able to get into quite a few good schools with it, and looking back, I think I underestimated the strength of my application. I'd say that places like Florida are almost definitely safe. Like trani and nonick said, don't go any "lower" if you wouldn't actually want to go there. Also, I completely agree that you should shoot off some applications to top programs. Plus a 780 is an extremely respectable score for a domestic astronomy applicant. I'd definitely apply to Cornell and Cal Tech (and maybe a few others even) if I were you! If you don't get about 50% rejections, you probably didn't apply to the right mix of schools!

physicienne
Posts: 10
Joined: Tue Dec 09, 2008 7:31 am

Re: Safety Schools

Postby physicienne » Fri Dec 12, 2008 8:25 am

i think that astronomy programs can be trickier than physics programs. in many cases they are much smaller, and more competitive - so while nonick has a good suggestion and trani has a point, you should pay attention to how many grad students are usually admitted to the schools you're looking at and make sure that you are applying to at least one school that you really shouldn't have a problem getting into (that also hosts research you're interested in, obviously). your gpa is also not as solid as secander2!'s, so you lose something there when being compared to other similar candidates with higher gpas.

as for a potential waste of time in choosing safety schools, well, i would not err on the side of arrogance. sometimes visiting a school and an area can do a lot to improve an opinion, as well - i suppose i'm referring more to the accepted student visits, unless you have previously visited the school and arranged for a lot of interaction within the department. at a less prestigious university it is also possible to find a mentor that is still very prominent in his or her field.

i say this because i know two very good students with good recommendations (one even had his name on a nature publication) who applied to astronomy departments last year and neither was accepted to any of them. i would say it was part ignorance of how many spots were available at the places they chose (i'm sure you've seen gradschoolshopper.com), part mediocre pgre scores, and part rotten luck.

i hope that helps a bit.

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secander2!
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Re: Safety Schools

Postby secander2! » Fri Dec 12, 2008 8:50 am

I completely missed the GPA :oops: that could really hurt, however, it could be mediated somewhat because it came from a good university and by the fact that your PGRE is strong. I think physicienne makes very good points, but I still think you should apply to some top programs like Cornell.

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Unnatural Log
Posts: 46
Joined: Fri Aug 15, 2008 4:07 pm

Re: Safety Schools

Postby Unnatural Log » Fri Dec 12, 2008 9:57 am

Thanks for the responses guys. The reason I'm comfortable applying to, say, BU or Florida, is that even though I look at them as a safety, I'd be completely happy going there based on some of the research their faculty does.

secander2 - Thanks for linking me to your profile, it really helps. Obviously your GPA is the big difference, I know that is the weakness in my application. I'm hoping that this will be made up for by the fact that I went to a kick-ass undergrad institution, have three very strong rec letters from faculty at that institution, and have a major GPA significantly higher than my regular GPA at around a 3.7 or so (my primary major was math, not physics). I still don't really think I can get into a Cornell-type place, but I'll give one or two of those a shot as a reach school anyway.

physicienne - The reason I think applying to schools lower than my current safeties might be a waste of time is simply that I'm very confident I can be accepted to one of the schools I'm applying to already. I say this because I applied last year to a few schools with a much worse pGRE score, worse letters, and less research experience, so I have reference points based on those results (man, I had no idea what I was doing last year - I was completely in over my head). You are right that astro schools can be tricky because of the small sample sizes involved.

Thanks for the help!




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